Euro 2012: Thank goodness for England’s elimination
Perhaps this is merely echoing what countless others are saying, but thank the Lord we lost, eh? Thank the Lord that a so-so Italian side managed to eliminate Roy Hodgson’s so-so-agonising and frankly rather depressing England from Euro 2012.
Thank the Lord our tournament “adventure” is over for another couple of years. Yet again, we can all breathe an immense sigh of relief. Feels rather good, don’t you think? And for several reasons.
First, and most obviously, because I’m simply not sure I could have endured another moment of that. Honestly, watching England compete in major international football competitions has never been an enjoyable, uplifting, soul-enriching experience (the 4-1 defeat of the Dutch at Wembley in Euro 1996 was, off the top of my head, the only time I think I’ve truly enjoyed an England performance at that stage of any big competition, and only then did it become pleasurable once the result was clearly beyond all doubt), but even by our traditional standards, watching us steadily lose all purpose, poise, penetration and, er, passing ability, against what was a fairly ordinary (by their standards) Italian side was a miserable way to spend a summer’s evening.
Second, and following on from this, a semi-final against Germany would have been a truly hideous prospect. Not just because it makes your life feel increasingly like an old stuck record, and not just because of the tiresome jingoism that would once again have been fired up – perhaps not to quite the level it would have reached in days of old, but there are some who just can’t help themselves – but because, well, to put it bluntly, they’d have surely made the most horribly efficient, humiliating job of what the Italians achieved via somewhat more laborious means.
And third, because – perish the thought – what if they hadn’t? What if England had not only fluked their way past Italy but achieved a similar “miracle” in both the semi-final and, gasp, the final? What if England, THIS England, this bunch whose spirit and noble intent cannot mask their woeful technical shortcomings, had somehow actually gone on to win Euro 2012?
Roy Hodgson is a decent man, I don’t doubt, and an efficient coach who has commendably made the most of the limited time and resources at his disposal. But be honest, wouldn’t it have been utterly terrible if he’d taken this England team all the way? Terrible for the game, for one thing (it would have been up there, or do I mean ‘down’, with Greece’s grim triumph at Euro 2004), but also terrible for English football itself. A win by a side with such terrible limitations, playing football in that fashion – and somehow grinding out results by doing so – would have sent out a message that would have resonated throughout the domestic game, potentially setting it back years.
Where would be the pride or the glory in that? Could it have felt any more hollow and invalid?
And finally, how nice it’s going to be from this point onwards, simply savouring what remains of this tournament, largely watching football being played the way it needs to be played if there’s any point in watching it in the first place. Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy – no great surprises, no giant-killers, no side that isn’t there on merit.
The older I get, the more I come simply to appreciate the game’s most gifted players – on the pitch, at least (I’m past the stage where I necessarily need to like them as human beings) – and the more I rediscover the pure magic of the game itself. By the same token, the less I find myself able seriously to give two hoots about any clunking old workaday England side.
Besides, what exactly is the point of international football these days in any case? Beats me.
So, OK, would I be saying all this if we were still in the tournament? Of course I wouldn’t. I’d have remained in blissful denial, just as I’ve done in these situations for more years, and at more tournaments, than I care to remember. I’d have been preparing myself for yet another horrible, gut-churning, joyless 90 minutes – probably longer, of course – and convincing myself that any victory, should it somehow be eked out, would be long overdue and richly deserved, blah blah. A victory for English football’s way of doing things. A way which, while perhaps not the prettiest, is every bit as valid as that fancy-dan, tippy-tappy stuff.
In other words, I’d have happily carried on kidding myself. I’d have gladly basked in the hollow triumph.
But this way, facing up to the brutal facts, surely has to be the better way, certainly in the long term. It’s only by accepting a result such as this, and by taking an unflinchingly honest look at the reasons behind it, that English football can build itself a future of any real merit.
Ultimately, until we have an England side that’s able to inspire, excite, uplift and produce football to be proud of, we shouldn’t get too despondent when, yet again, they’re sent packing.Tagged in: england, England v Italy, euro 2012, Roy Hodgson
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